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Risk Management

5 Ways Retailers Can Safely Prepare for Peak Season Staffing Shortages

With the nation facing a massive labor crisis, peak season hiring for retail is about to get a lot more challenging. Learn how retailers can prepare while avoiding the risks associated with overworked employees.

October 25, 2021

Seasonal hiring is necessary for the retail industry in preparation for holiday shoppers and the influx of customer traffic. Companies invest significant time and money to prepare, with some starting the process as early as the first quarter. However, the labor crisis has put an additional crunch on retailers hiring for the holiday season.

“The current retail unemployment rate is hovering around 6.5% with the Bureau of Labor Statistics citing over a million job openings in the industry,” said Steve Simon, Senior Risk Control Manager at Safety National. “Unfortunately, this shortage can lead to exhausted, overworked employees that risk injury to themselves or others, so retailers need to understand how critical it is to be prepared for peak season.”

Retailers preparing for the onslaught of consumer traffic should consider these items when increasing their holiday staff.

1. Start planning early. The holidays are already the most stressful time of the year, and amid a massive labor shortage, last-minute hiring can be even more difficult. Most retailers rely on temporary hires for a percentage of their seasonal staff, but consider starting with your current staff. Start discussing scheduled time off for holiday plans months in advance to cover shift gaps. Shift-based apps can help fill availability, often within 12 hours of a posting. Regardless of the size of your operation, seasonal planning should start at least months in advance.

2. Embrace technology. Wherever possible, utilize technology to streamline your onboarding and hiring processes. Physical paperwork and manual procedures take time to approve, sign and file, which wastes valuable time and effort. A digital—more specifically, mobile—operation delivers an exceptional experience for your HR staff and potential job candidates. Not only is this attractive to new hires, but it enables them to start their role earlier, getting retailers the help they desperately need during this time.

3. Explore incentives and flexibility. Nationwide employers now offer higher wages, healthcare benefits and even college tuition to recruit and retain talent. While this option may not function for every employer, every retailer should customize their own incentive program that sets them apart from the competition. Some workers may desire more flexibility in their hours or advancement opportunities for those interested in management. Flexibility, in particular, can help tailor schedules for employees in school, those with other jobs and those with family commitments. Remember that a solid benefits program displays trust and empathy while also reducing stress and absenteeism in the workforce.

4. Stop encouraging overworking. When your staff is overworked, is there actually better output? Studies suggest no. In a study by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers could not tell the difference between employees who worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. Additionally, her research suggested no evidence that those employees accomplished less or that the overworked employees accomplished more. Other studies have noted the health problems that can occur through the stress of overwork, showing up as turnover and absenteeism. Employees scheduled long hours are also more likely to make mistakes or get injured. Long shifts are bound to happen during the holidays, but chronically overworked employees can suffer a severe performance drop-off.

5. Develop a work hardening program. Work hardening is a systematic, individualized program created to provide the necessary activity for a person to physically and psychologically recondition their body to return to work. With a goal to create real or simulated tasks providing a gradual improvement in the employee’s strength, this program can ensure an injured worker returning to work can perform assigned duties. If a prior position is not the best fit, work hardening can assess a more suitable position. Any injured worker returning to duty during a stressful time, like peak retail season, should be aware of their limitations since further stress can cause setbacks or a delay in recovery.